Toss aside the horrendous sequels, common cliches and Stallone jokes and let Rocky show you how American cinema is done right. Much like the title character, Stallone had a screenplay that no one wanted to take a chance on. But every dog has his day and when Stallone got his shot with MGM, Rocky got his shot at Creed and American film history. The new two-disc Collector's Edition is well worth the triple-dip trade in.
Pop culture tends to make clichés out of the best American cinema has to offer. The most quote-able Marlon Brando lines are from three of his best films (Street Car Named Desire, On the Waterfront and Godfather). The classic “I am your father,” from The Empire Strikes Back is now frequently a punch line and the word, “Rosebud” will endlessly echo through time courtesy of Citizen Kane. Although these clichés trivialize these great films, they allow the films’ immortal legacies to find a new audience to experience their power.
In that regard, it’s fitting that Rocky takes its place among the classic clichés. From the training montage where Rocky triumphantly runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to a trampled Rocky yelling “Adrian,” parodies of Rocky have shown up in everything from an episode of The Simpsons to the 1996 Summer Olympic torch relay where Dawn Staley ran up the very same steps. Don’t let these comic devises tarnish your perception of Rocky, it is just as powerful, moving and impressive today as it was in 1976.
The film is the Cinderella story of a lower-class henchman whose aspirations of being a boxer are dwindling. With the likelihood of becoming a bum looming on the horizon, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is given a shot at the championship in a match against Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). While the current clichés might have you thinking that Rocky is a two hour training montage, the film is more about the quiet isolation and desolate moments a person has when following his dreams.
Much of Rocky’s success lies on the shoulders of Sylvester Stallone who not only starred in, but also wrote the film. It’s Stallone’s honest performance that makes us believe that Rocky can go the distance. His heart and perseverance is admirable, but Stallone allows us to sympathize with the character’s fears and doubts. Instead of filling the film with endless boxing sequences, the film only features two fights. Stallone’s screenplay focuses small moments of solitude.
Unlike current underdog films, Rocky isn’t constantly yelling about how he is overcoming obstacles. He is quiet, humble and hopeful. Rocky’s loudest moments are he’s looking at a picture of himself as a child or walking alone down a dilapidated street of Philadelphia. The subdued direction by John Avildsen elevates these moments’ importance so when the bombastic moments of Rocky’s training and fight with Creed come around, they pay off big time.
Although the current clichés make mountains out of Rocky’s molehills, they are a testament to the true spirit of the film. If it weren’t for the power of Rocky’s first attempt of mounting the legendary steps and hobbling to the top or his preparation of turtle jokes to tell Adrian early in their courtship, Rocky’s triumphs would have fallen flat, instead of rising above the usual inspirational Hollywood dreck. Despite the parodies, poor sequels and Stallone jokes, it should not be forgotten that Rocky is a gem of American cinema.
The new triple-dip, two-disc edition is hopefully the last standard definition DVD we’ll have to trade our old copy of Rocky in for. Quite frankly, there can’t be much more bonus material than what this Collector’s Edition offers. The new edition appears to be using the same video transfer as the previous MGM Special Edition. The transfer is far from perfect. Age was not so kind to Rocky and it shows. The video is riddled with artifacts and dirt from the film. However, the colors are true and the dirt and grit adds to the film’s mood and atmosphere. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track also appears to return from the previous Special Edition DVD. No complaints here as the dialogue is clear from the center channels and the score’s trumpets soar from the satellite channels.
As for the good stuff, disc one offers not one, not two, but three audio commentaries – one with Stallone, one with boxing trainer and veteran boxing commentator Bert Sugar and one with director John Avildsen, producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, actors Burt Young, Talia Shire and Carl Weathers and Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown. While the track with the director and assorted cast and crew appears to be mostly recycled from the Special Edition, the two new tracks offer some insight and entertainment. Stallone’s track showcases the actor's intelligence and candor about the film and himself, while Bert Sugar offers up some interesting tidbits about the boxing world. All the tracks are eventually worth your time, but are less interesting digested in one sitting.
Rounding out the first disc is a five-minute featurette with Lou Duva, an old-school boxing vet, sharing his knowledge of the sport. Though somewhat interesting, it’s nice that it’s short and skip-able compared to the offering on disc two.
Disc two supplies In the Ring, a three-part documentary. Covering pre-production tribulations and highlighting many of the excellent unsung cast members and the movie’s historical impact, this documentary is an outstanding overview of the film. As if that weren’t enough, there are five new featurettes. Perhaps the most interesting is Steadicam: Then and Now with Garret Brown, which takes a look at the invention of the steadicam. The other four featurettes cover every thing from the musical score and make up to the film’s art direction and behind the scenes footage.
The material from the previous Special Edition also make an appearance adding three featurettes, most notable the Video Commentary with Sylvester Stallone. Finally, Sylvester Stallone on Dinah! is more promotional than informative. The DVD also includes a booklet with an excerpt from Rocky: The Ultimate Guide.